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A month to forget

Aug 28, 2015, 11:48 PM EST

USA Today Sports Images

There is no one person responsible for the Nationals’ struggles this month. It’s never that simple. But Max Scherzer hasn’t exactly helped the cause.

Which, given the way things were going earlier this summer, is pretty hard to believe.

“You want to go there and compete and do everything you can to help the ballclub win,” the right-hander said. “When you’re not able to do that, it’s frustrating. There’s no doubt about it.”

Friday night’s 4-3 loss to the Marlins ranked among the more frustrating ones of Scherzer’s season, and by extension the Nationals’ season. He didn’t pitch horribly, not at all. He even retired 12 consecutive batters to end his evening.

But Scherzer once again was victimized by a couple of balls launched over or off the fence: A Derek Dietrich RBI double in the first, a Martin Prado 2-run homer in the third, a Marcell Ozuna solo homer in the fourth. Those three big hits were enough to make the difference in this loss.

“Three swings of the bat were enough for them against him tonight,” manager Matt Williams said. “He was strong, throwing the ball like he wanted to. He just made a couple mistakes.”

Such is life right now for Scherzer, who wrapped up a dreadful August with one final disappointing performance. When the month began, he owned a 2.22 ERA, having allowed three or more earned runs only five times in 21 starts. In five games since, he owns a 6.43 ERA, having given up three or more earned runs each time.

And lately, those runs have come via the long ball. Scherzer has surrendered seven homers in his last 28 innings (one for every four innings pitched). This after giving up only 13 in his first 150 innings (one for every 11 innings pitched).

“I don’t see nothing different, just pitching up in the zone,” catcher Wilson Ramos said. “These guys have bats in their hands. They’re aggressive and they hit the ball well. Nothing to change. He’s doing his best.”

One of Friday night’s homers indeed was up in the zone: A 1-0 fastball to Ozuna at the letters that wound up sailing over the center-field wall. The other (a 2-2 fastball) actually was down and inside, off the plate, with Prado somehow turning on it and sending it flying deep to left field.

Whatever the case, the results speak for themselves right now. And the results haven’t been up to Scherzer’s usual standards.

“Sometimes they’re going to hit pitches for home runs, and I tip my cap to Prado for hitting that pitch,” he said. “That pitch is off the plate, and he hit it for a home run. Sometimes that happens. But there are mistakes within that outing that I’ve gotta shore up, so that when I do give up a couple runs that’s it. And that’s what’s frustrating.”

If Scherzer is frustrated right now, imagine how the Nationals collectively feel as this miserable month nears its conclusion. Though they’ve made strides in the right direction of late, winning three straight series entering this one, they’re still finding ways to lose winnable games.

Like this one. Despite his early struggles, Scherzer did finish his night by retiring 12 straight batters, at least giving his teammates a chance to rally. They nearly did, getting home runs from Ian Desmond and Ramos, then a sacrifice fly from Ryan Zimmerman that cut the deficit to 4-3 in the sixth. But they could not push across the one final run they needed to tie the game, and so they were left to stew over a 1-run loss on a rare night when they had a chance to pick up a game on the first-place Mets (who still lead the division by 6 1/2 games).

“None of us in here expect to win out, but it’s about winning series and playing good baseball,” Desmond said. “Cards will fall where they fall. We battled back today. Put up some really good at-bats, some not so good ones, but we gave ourselves a chance.”

  1. wmlsays - Aug 28, 2015 at 11:57 PM

    The Nats are a team of destiny. Destined to watch from the sidelines while spending like it was their year to go to the world series. Too bad that plan didn’t work out. Scherzer’s a good guy, so hopefully, he actually wins a game sometime in the next couple of weeks. Doesn’t matter much. He’s already cost the team dearly in August, so it will have to be in the coming years that he shows he’s worth the money he’s being paid. Based on his actual record this year, he has been a fairly bad investment. Roark probably could have won as many games as Max and cost a lot less. I guess Rizzo love tinkering with the pitching, but never gets enough hitters to help the team score. Missing the playoffs two out of three years, when you supposedly have one of the best teams in baseball, is telling. The master plan isn’t working out the way it was intended.

  2. wmlsays - Aug 29, 2015 at 12:02 AM

    How good can you be when you get beat by Fondue, I mean Flande. Twice. In a matter of weeks. Not giving on Max, but he has been disappointing. Much less than promised. A no hitter and a one hitter balanced out by continued losses against mediocre pitchers.

    • veejh - Aug 29, 2015 at 7:29 AM

      They overused him early this year. Too many times Scherzer was pushing to compkete games for no reason when our pen should have been limiting his innings. I surely has come back to haunt this team.

  3. veejh - Aug 29, 2015 at 7:30 AM

    Bases loaded no outs and they score 1 run pretty much doomed this game.

    • npb99 - Aug 29, 2015 at 7:55 AM

      I called that one. We paused the TV, ate dinner, and my son asked how many runs the Nats would score. I said one. He called me a cynic. I even predicted sac fly, strikeout. And was right.
      I hate it when my pessimism is validated, but the team just has no magic whatsoever this year. Or maybe they used it all up in that great comeback against the Braves.

      • nats106 - Aug 29, 2015 at 8:42 AM

        In other news, if you are going to the game tomorrow to get a Jayson Werth bobblehead, the Nationals issued a statement on facebook that they would be giving out vouchers tomorrow because they weren’t satisfied with the final product. The voucher is redeemable during the offseason.

        Just in case you are taking your son to the game for the bobblehead tomorrow.

    • Another_Sam - Aug 29, 2015 at 9:11 AM

      Right on. Max is just one part of the story. Lead off double, two walks and a wild pitch. And the only run scored is on a sac fly.

      • NatsLady - Aug 29, 2015 at 9:18 AM

        I love Ryan to death, but I’ve seen him do that a half-dozen times this year, settle for the sac-fly with multiple runners on base. It’s a rally-killer, because you go from bases loaded none out to runners on 1st and 2nd one out (if the runner on 2nd doesn’t get to 3rd, as happened in this case). Mathematically, the odds of winning dropped from 55.1% to 44.2% even though you get the run.

  4. NatsLady - Aug 29, 2015 at 9:12 AM

    So, I’m listening to the Mets game on my way home. They lost the game in the most discouraging way possible.

    (1) Harvey pitched six shutout innings, so the Mets were leading 2-0. They take Harvey out “to preserve his innings.”
    (2) Bullpen promptly gives it up, and it’s now 3-2 Red Sox.
    (3) Mets tie it up and it goes to extras.
    (4) In the top of the 10th the Red Sox score three runs (Carlos Torres, who had pitched 2+ innings the night before was the culprit) and there is a mass exodus from Citi Field.
    (5) The Red Sox, for some reason, entrust the bottom of the 10th to Tazawa, who has been a mess all year. He gets two outs, then loses the ability to throw strikes and walks four straight batters. It’s now 6-4 with the bases loaded. In desperation, the Red Sox bring in Breslow, a lefty with a 4+ ERA, to face Cespedes.
    (7) No miracle happens. Cespedes flies out.

    Cespedes went 0-for-4 in the game (2 walks) and left five on base.

    David Wright hasn’t hit for extra bases since that first-pitch homer, but he’s GIDP twice, and so far his offense is in negative territory for Win Probability, in other words, you’d rather not have him in the lineup. (He has made a couple of nifty defensive plays.)

    I didn’t realize this, but Cespedes was their fourth choice. Ahead of him were Carlos Gonzalez, Jay Bruce, and Justin Upton. They got lucky all those deals fell through (except in the case of Upton), but there’s probably a reason Cespedes was so low on their list, like, he won’t sustain the hot hitting?

    What I’m saying is, their bubble could burst. Nats need to WIN GAMES.

    • Another_Sam - Aug 29, 2015 at 9:18 AM

      I agree, Ms. NL. Scoreboard surely watching is pointless unless this club can win reliably.

      • NatsLady - Aug 29, 2015 at 9:21 AM

        Yup. It felt good so listen to the Mets lose, but it would have felt SO MUCH BETTER if the Nats had won!!!

    • NatsLady - Aug 29, 2015 at 9:20 AM

      Sorry, I meant Carlos Gomez (I think. I get the Car-Go’s mixed up). The one who isn’t playing well.

      • natsfan1a - Aug 29, 2015 at 9:34 AM

        I get them mixed up, too, so you’re not alone, fwiw.

    • legnatsfan - Aug 29, 2015 at 9:42 AM

      NL, You always see a silver lining. When Tazawa walked the 4th batter I thought this is it. The Mets are going to luck out and win. This just isn’t our season. Thank you for the analysis and I hope you are right about the Mets. But like you said, the Nats need to win games NOW or it doesn’t matter. Regardless of the season’s final outcome, I’d love to see exciting baseball in September. I hope it’s not over in the next week. Would love to see it go to the final game in NY.

    • Nats Fan Zee - Aug 29, 2015 at 10:20 AM

      Interesting comment by the Mets announcers after Cespedes did not move on the inside the park (maybe) HR that while he has helped the offense, teamwork and such leave much to be desired. They went on to mention that it’s so much of a concern that could impact their decision to pursue him after the season!

      Their pitching is starting to fracture (the announcers also said beyond Clip & Familia they have issues) and all is not happy in Metsville. This is the opening the Nats need …. It’s now or never

  5. coolhandbane - Aug 29, 2015 at 9:33 AM

    I am being realistic but I can’t see us making the playoffs with how we have been playing. We dont have the right attitude it seems and we can’t generate that spark to make us go on a run. It is like our minds are infected with bad thoughts. Plus I don’t know about you all but I don’t see the mets lose enough games for us to over take the lead with the ways we have been playing and with our attitudes both on and off the field

    • legnatsfan - Aug 29, 2015 at 9:48 AM

      I agree with you that it would be very tough to take over the lead with how we’re playing now. But, how do you know that the attitudes are bad on and off the field?

  6. nelliefox - Aug 29, 2015 at 9:37 AM

    Well a guy who plays with passion, such as Carlos Gomez, would be a nice addition to our group of “consummate professionals.”

    • Eugene in Oregon - Aug 29, 2015 at 10:12 AM

      Attitude and passion don’t win baseball games. Performance does. This year, Carlos Gomez — who I like as a player — has generated an OPS of .696 and a combined 0.0 WAR. To pick out a ‘consummate professional’ on the Nats who is often criticized for being emotionless, Ryan Zimmerman has an OPS of .701 and a 0.1 WAR. Neither is performing up to their career standards, but is that because one is too passionate and one not passionate enough?

      • Nats Fan Zee - Aug 29, 2015 at 10:50 AM

        If you are talking about MLB2K The Show on your PS4 I would agree but baseball is played by people and people are emotionally invested in their work. Attitude and passion for ones profession is the edge that allows one to rise among a peer group. It is not 100% of the makeup of an individual but to ignore its contribution is to discount its effects.

  7. ccallahan15 - Aug 29, 2015 at 10:03 AM

    The Nats got beat by the Marlins, Max got beat by Conley, and Matt got beat by Dan. Tough night and kinda fits our year. But as Mark said in his previous post for key stat…”Desmond didn’t have an error” so there’s that to bank on.

    Over the past few years it seems like our cycle is, injuries early in the year, young players and old veterans rise to the occasion and hold the team close, then the missing parts of the varsity team return and we rally at the end of the year. This year we got mugged by the Mets after the ASB and never really recovered to play well and the injured really haven’t healed. I was surprised when it was pointed out this week that our hailed starting preseason roster only played together twice this year. This week, and we lost one of those games. Tough tough season.

    So I, for one, will chalk the lack of “luck” part this season to the curse of the Bambino. Matt should have run during the off days before the playoffs last year, when he had the full team together to whom he’d made the commitment. And perhaps he did and we don’t know it. But if not it speaks volumes as a leader. ( all of which may have nothing to do with the actual playing of baseball…or does it…only the baseball gods know)

    • natsfan1a - Aug 29, 2015 at 11:15 AM

      As I recall, Boz has been asked about it once or twice during in-season Wash Post chats, and he’s said that Matt hadn’t done it.

      • ccallahan15 - Aug 29, 2015 at 1:27 PM

        Then he ought to do it tonight during batting practice. He has nothing to lose but his reputation (which could use a boost in the fun-loving, relaxes his players department) and it might just loosen everyone up. (and Appease the gods) 😉

      • natsfan1a - Aug 29, 2015 at 3:12 PM

        Works for me. 😉

  8. Theophilus T.S. - Aug 29, 2015 at 10:09 AM

    I’m already looking forward to next season. Not giving up on this one, completely, but my focus is now on the composition of next season’s team. Turner hasn’t hit yet but has showed he will be, at worst, their third-best IF defensively. If Turner hits — big if, at the moment — it will be difficult to justify leaving Escobar in the starting lineup. (If he doesn’t have the range or the arm to play 3B, how do they expect him to handle SS, or moving to a new position at 2B? Does he have the athleticism to turn two?) His bat is nice, and contrary to his reputation he’s been nothing (visibly) except a good team player) but the pitching flameout this season says to me that his highest and best use is as a trade chip (along w/ Storen, Gonzalez and Ramos). Defense will be everything. The Nats could, again, have one of the best rotations in MLB (Scherzer, Strasburg, Ross, Giolito and PTBNL) but this year shows that what’s on paper doesn’t always show up for the National Anthem. Defense will be king. Defensive mprovement needed at all IF positions (other than 1B), LF and behind the plate. Some of it can be obtained by moving pieces around the chessboard but they need an active, productive off-season.

    • npb99 - Aug 29, 2015 at 11:24 AM

      True, we need more consistent defense.
      But I’m not too excited about our offensive prospects either. At only one position will we for sure have a well-above average offensive player, RF. Hopefully 3B too, assuming that’s where Rendon plays. Everything else is a question mark.

  9. natsfan1a - Aug 29, 2015 at 11:16 AM

    Eh, where’d my comment go?

    • natsfan1a - Aug 29, 2015 at 11:17 AM

      Oh, never mind. Lunch time.

  10. raleighnat - Aug 29, 2015 at 11:20 AM

    I love all our guys. I think they work hard and have talent. But something about this particular mix makes the whole less than the some of its parts. Don’t know what exactly, but they are missing something. Might be time to trade some of these guys (Gio, Escobar, Ramos come to mind), tell Werth he’s going to have to accept a lesser role, take advantage of the free agent departures, and reconstruct a bit.

  11. nats4me - Aug 29, 2015 at 12:18 PM

    Post Mortem on what appears to be the end of their season.
    1) They played most of the year like a .500 ball club.
    2) Their players in the their walk years underperformed badly.
    3) The bullpen was lousy…and made even worse when Storen was demoted for no good reason and then decided it was time to give up every run he had saved during the season.
    4) Injuries were numerous, but so was poor play before and after the injury bug hit.
    5) Another poor year of situational hitting. This teams wins and dies by the long ball.
    6) The MASN contract impasse is horrid. How baseball could allow this to continue is nearly criminal.
    7) Matt Williams needs to figure out how to make better moves and throw out his book. Granted it’s easier to call him on his bad moves after the fact.
    8) Bryce Harper really is a good hitter!
    9) Mike Rizzo is a really good GM…don’t listen to the Neigh Bobs of Negativity. A team is really built from within, and he can! That being said, we should have traded for Clip again instead of Papelbon.
    10) I can’t see the team suddenly turning an entire season of inconsistant pitching, hitting and defense around and win the division. Sorry.

    • Section 222 - Aug 29, 2015 at 2:42 PM

      Pretty good post mortem. I don’t agree with all of your points, but some are spot on. See below:

      1) They played most of the year like a .500 ball club.
      Very true. Actually worse. 4 of 8 18-game stretches were either 10-8 or 8-10. 2 were 7-11, 1 was 12-6. That’s pretty bad.
      2) Their players in the their walk years underperformed badly.
      Definitely. Fister was awful. Span played well, but not much. Desi was terrible for most of the season. His resurgence will leave him with a just subpar year. He’ll still get a big contract. So will JZnn, but he hasn’t been nearly the third ace we expected.
      3) The bullpen was lousy…and made even worse when Storen was demoted for no good reason and then decided it was time to give up every run he had saved during the season.
      Agree it was lousy. Totally disagree about Storen. See No. 9.
      4) Injuries were numerous, but so was poor play before and after the injury bug hit.
      Injury bug hit right away. Span, Rendon, Werth out on Opening Day. Zim hurt soon after. That’s alot of firepower to miss for much of the year.
      5) Another poor year of situational hitting. This teams wins and dies by the long ball.
      True. Not sure what can be done about that.
      6) The MASN contract impasse is horrid. How baseball could allow this to continue is nearly criminal.
      Definitely though it has nothing to do with what happened this year.
      7) Matt Williams needs to figure out how to make better moves and throw out his book. Granted it’s easier to call him on his bad moves after the fact.
      Agreed. None of the great managers in baseball manage by the numbers. It’s sad really.
      8) Bryce Harper really is a good hitter!
      Oh yeah. Better than we could have hoped for in his age 22 season.
      9) Mike Rizzo is a really good GM…don’t listen to the Neigh Bobs of Negativity. A team is really built from within, and he can! That being said, we should have traded for Clip again instead of Papelbon.
      Disagree on Papelbon. That was a great move if Drew had followed ex-closer Casey Janssen’s example. Drew may be a very good closer someday but I hope it’s for another team.
      10) I can’t see the team suddenly turning an entire season of inconsistant pitching, hitting and defense around and win the division. Sorry.
      Sadly, I agree. You can put a fork in ’em.

  12. kiawah51 - Aug 29, 2015 at 2:59 PM

    Okay, lets get one thing straight, MW is terrible and has to go. Desmond singles to lead of 9th. He has most stolen bases on team. Instead of having him steal against a pitcher with a long delivery, he gives up an out with Espy bunting him to second. Now tell me, what is our track record with one out and runners in scoring position. It sucks. Especially with Ramos coming up who already shot his wad with a home run. If you have any brains you have Desmond steal ( obviosuly no guarantee but great odds), then have Espy bunt him to third. And then you don’t need a hit to score. How hard is that to comprehend. This guy is a joke

  13. edshelton2013 - Aug 29, 2015 at 5:55 PM

    nats4me:
    One of your points was that “players underperformed in their walk years”.
    Not only them, but I read that EVERY player had underperformed compared to their career norms with three exceptions: Harper, Scherzer and Escobar.

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